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Baphi oMzala? — An African Marxist Perspective on the 'National Question' in South Africa

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Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo

Percy Ngoyama delivered a seminar entitled Baphi oMzala? — An African Marxist Perspective on the 'National Question' in South Africa on the 27th September 2017 as part of the Labour Studies Seminar Series. The series is jointly co-ordinated by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.

Percy Ngonyama is a researcher at the Pietermaritzburg-based Mzala Nxumalo Centre for the Study of South African Society. A historian by training, he is currently working on a political biography of the late Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo (1955-1991), known to many as "comrade Mzala." His research interests include missionary history, and the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century history of colonial Natal and Zululand. Ngonyama is passionate about current political developments, and has published widely on contemporary issues, including in Business Day, Pambazuka News, Socialist Worker, and Times Live. He has a background in social movement activism.

Presentation Summary

The imperative of recovering African intellectual heritages cannot be fulfilled without serious engagement with the radical traditions of labour and the left-wing. This paper engages the work of Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo (1955-1991), leading African Marxist and revolutionary intellectual. Writing, for the most part, as "comrade Mzala," he was a key figure in the radical wing of the anti-apartheid movement, widely known for his "Cooking the Rice Inside the Pot: A Historical Call in our Times" (Sechaba, 1985) and "Gatsha Buthelezi: Chief with a Double Agenda" (Zed Books, 1988).  This paper examines the late Mzala's engagement, from the left, with South Africa's "national question," one of his favourite intellectual concerns. He distinguished between "reactionary nationalism" and "revolutionary nationalism," the latter including distinct elements of "internationalism," proletarian solidarity and anti-capitalism. By historically contextualising a range of his writings, including opinion pieces, scholarly papers, book chapters and the like, the paper demonstrates that Mzala's famous work on Chief Buthelezi falls within the broader context of his intellectual interest in the National Question and its revolutionary resolution in a People's Republic and the correction of economic injustice.